Circle These Dates

Believe it or not, I actually overheard the following phrase mentioned about the Jays this morning:

“Should we be concerned?”

Wow.  I know the Jays are 0-2 so far.  They haven’t scored a single run.  As I write this, they trail the Phillies 6-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning.

But seriously?  It’s Spring Training!

So instead of us focusing on games that don’t matter, I want to focus on games that do.

Get out your pens and get ready to circle your calendars for 500 Level Fan’s “Can’t Miss Games of 2011”:

1. April 1 vs. Minnesota

Opening Day is always a treat, but this year could be a beauty.  Not only do the Jays get to face the defending AL Central champs, there is a chance that Canadian boy Justin Morneau returns to the Twins lineup, and there is a chance that we’ll be treated to a pitching matchup of two young rising lefties – Ricky Romero vs. Francisco Liriano.

2. April 15 at Boston

First trip to Fenway against the big, bad, re-tooled Red Sox.  An early season look at just how good Boston will be in 2011.

3. May 20 vs. Houston

Interleague kicks off, and look who’s coming to town?  The Astros with 1B Brett Wallace – the former Blue Jay farmhand who was traded for Anthony Gose in a widely criticized deal by fans. 

4. July 1 vs. Philadelphia

Canada Day + Friday afternoon + the return of Roy Halladay = a must see game.  Even if the rotations don’t line up and Halladay isn’t starting, I’ll be there.  Jays fans get retribution for last year’s Phillies series moving to Philadelphia due to the G20.

5. August 12 vs. LA Angels

The return of Vernon Wells.  I would hope and assume that he would be greeted with a warm welcome, but there are always a few jerk-offs ready to boo.

6. September 28 at Chicago White Sox

A Wednesday afternoon game to close the season.  There’s a good chance this game will be meaningless, but I dare to dream it won’t be.  Final day of the season, Jays and White Sox tied for the Wild Card.  Winner of this game moves to October.

Worst Case Scenario

It must be tough to be a Cardinals fan right now.

On the heels of “Albert-ageddon”, where Pujols did not sign a contract extension before his self-imposed deadline and may now become a free agent at seasons end, comes this:

Adam Wainwright needs Tommy John surgery.

Ouch.

That means St. Louis, a team that will be dogged all season by constant and rampant Pujols speculation, must now do without their staff ace for at least this season.  Since recovery time is normally 12-15 months, AW might also miss part of next season.  A crushing blow.

Wainwright finished second in NL Cy Young voting last season after posting a 20-11 record, 2.42 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 213 K in 230.1 IP.  In the past four seasons he has gone 64-34, with a 2.93 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 652 K in 797.1 IP.

Those numbers will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to replace.

With Pujols, Holliday, and Carpenter still on the roster, the season isn’t over by any means, but the odds just got a LOT longer.

All of which got me thinking about the Jays – does Toronto have a player on the current roster who, if lost for the season today, would cause fans to say “it’s over”?

I thought about it, and I think the answer is no. 

There are really only five players who can even be remotely considered:

– Jose Bautista

– Aaron Hill

– Adam Lind

– Ricky Romero

– Brandon Morrow

The Jays essentially won 85 games last year without Hill and Lind, so they’re out.  Morrow was shut down early last year, and might be shut down early again this year, so no.  This will be Romero’s first year as the ace of the staff, but he hasn’t done enough in his career to suggest he would be a season-crusher.

That leaves Bautista.  Many will argue that if he goes down, we’re sunk.  Iin a way that’s true.  But consider this: a) we aren’t going to contend anyways, and b) he has no track record, nothing to indicate that he will pop 50 HR again this year.

So no, there is not a single member on this year’s club whose loss would hurt like Wainwright’s.

We don’t really have a player who means as much to the club as Lincecum does to SF, or Longoria does to Tampa Bay, or even Votto does to Cincinnati. 

Not sure if that’s a good thing (one significant injury wouldn’t cripple us) or a bad thing (one player won’t carry us). 

But I’m glad I’m not a Cardinal fan.

For the record, here are my top-3 Jays in franchise history where I would throw up my hands if they were lost for a season.

1. Roy Halladay (2005 – it happened after he broke his leg in July and was lost for the season.  The Jays were done after that.)

2. Roger Clemens (1998)

3. Carlos Delgado (2000)

What a Difference a Year Makes

The team behind the new look (from daylife.com)

Spring Training is under way. The first exhibition game is only a few days away. There is a buzz in the air, both in Dunedin and in Toronto.

While it’s true that there is a buzz in the air every year at this time, something feels different this year. The Blue Jays have become relevant again – both in Major League Baseball and in the sports landscape of Toronto. There is youth, swagger, and a sense of expectation that hasn’t been seen in several years.

Want proof?

It’s in the headlines.

Check out the News Archive on bluejays.com and take a few moments to peruse the main stories for February of this year. This is a glimpse of what you’ll see:

Adam Lind getting more comfortable at first base

Frank Francisco holding the early edge for the closer job

Travis Snider hoping to breakout despite sore ribs

Ricky Romero ready to

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Jo-Jo Reyes impresses John Farrell

Now, change the year to February of 2010 and see the difference:

John Buck to help mold young Jay’s staff

Shaun Marcum to lead rotation

Vernon Wells takes on leadership role

Kevin Gregg begins fresh start, to challenge Scott Downs for closer’s role

Roy Halladay casts a shadow over training camp

Lyle Overbay knowns this could be his last year as a Jay

Cito Gaston faces challenges in final year

Notice a trend in the 2010 headlines? Every single one of those men are no longer with the team.

In 2010 there seemed to be more of a focus on the past, and of how to possibly get through the season. Look at some of the words used: last, final, shadow.

The stories were all about how Cito will fare in his final year, or can Overbay go out in style. Questions were asked about how the team will cope without Halladay, or who will become a leader.

But in 2011, those questions have either been answered or don’t exist. John Farrell is in place for the long haul and has the local fans excited about his managerial philosophy. There are no key members of this team in their final year – the core is signed. Roy Halladay is now referred to as “the guy we got Drabek for” not “the former ace who will be impossible to replace.” And, maybe most important, we don’t have to question whether a leader (last year it was Vernon) will step up. We now know that Jose Bautista fits that role – unquestionably.

Last year there was a sense of dread and foreboding, a feeling that we were straddling two distinct era’s of the Toronto Blue Jays. Call it pre-and-post Ricciardi, or pre-and-post Halladay.

This year, that page has been turned.

What a difference a year makes.

Bautista is Back!

While it’s not official yet, all signs point to Jose Bautista signing a long-term extension with the Blue Jays.

The speculated deal is a 5 year / $65-million contract, one that will keep the slugger in Toronto until the end of the 2015 season when Bautista will turn 35.

Since nothing has been confirmed by AA yet, it’s hard to formulate a real opinion on the signing.  For instance:

– are all 5 years guaranteed?

– is the contract spread evenly (i.e. $13-million per year)?  Front loaded?  Back loaded?

– does it include any options (club or player)?

– does it include any clauses?

Until those details are released we can only assume it is a straight up five year extension.  And if that is the case, the main question that has been flying around the Twitter-verse is this: did the Blue Jays overpay?

I’ve read many opinions and the reactions have been wildly different, ranging all the way from “it sucks” to “it’s amazing”.  Some have ventured a guess that the contract is important for reasons other than pure, on-the-field baseball, that it sends a message to the rest of the league, to the fans, to the current roster, and to other players.  That message is this:

The Toronto Blue Jays mean business.

The other side of the coin, the “nay-sayers”, are asking why sign a guy to $13-mil a year now when the other option was to go to arbitration and only pay him (potentially) $10+?  If the middle ground was close to $9-milion, why go $4-million above it?  It’s too risky.

Well, I actually agree with both cases. 

Is it a lot of money?  Yes.

Are those a lot of years?  Yes.

Does it send a loud and clear message?  Yes.

To put it bluntly, the Blue Jays are not going to win this year.  2011 is a learning year, a year when the young players get a chance to grow up some more, get a bit better, and prime themselves for a run in 2012. 

Now, I don’t want to put too much of an emphasis on off-field leadership, but any young team needs a veteran presence, preferably a strong-willed veteran presence, to lead them.  Jose Bautista fits that mould.  Keeping him around is important, especially in the context of who is no longer around.  In the last few years the Jays have rid themselves of veteran leaders – Rolen, Halladay, Gonzalez, Buck, Marcum, Overbay, and Wells.  The team now belongs to youngsters, kids such as Romero, Cecil, Morrow, Arencibia, Snider, and Drabek.  To win with a young core like that is very difficult, but even tougher (and maybe more important) is to learn how to lose.

They play in a different sport with different rules and different dynamics, but I think the Edmonton Oilers serve as a useful comparison here.  Hall, Eberle, Pajarvi, Dubnyk, and the rest have been thrown together and left to learn how to compete at the NHL level with essentially zero veteran leadership.  As expected, the results this year have been disastrous.  Next year?  Who knows.

By all accounts Bautista is a fantastic locker room presence and will go a long way to help this team build into a contender.  (His 30-45 HR power doesn’t hurt either).

Is that combination worth the $65-million over five years that the Jays are on the verge of paying him?

Maybe, maybe not.  But I think the Jays need Bautista to win.

And as a good friend of mine said: “I’d rather win the division with a $150-million payroll than finish 3rd by spending $90-million.”

The Perfect Contract Comp For Bautista

Bautista should sign a multi-year deal soon (from daylife.com)

As we are all aware by now, home run king Jose Bautista and the Blue Jays postponed their arbitration case yesterday to work on, as reports have called it, a “multi-year deal.”

Many fans and journalists are up in arms about the developments.  A multi-year deal for a guy who had a “fluke” year last year?  Isn’t this Vernon Wells all over again?

Well, in this man’s opinion, the answer is no.  This is not Vernon v2.0.  Not even close.  We have a competent GM now, a man who has a vision for this team and who is building it his own way.  Ricciardi had a vision too, but then he changed it, and then he changed it again, and again, and again, and the next thing you knew we suddenly had Kevin Millar and Tomo Ohka on the team.

Anthopoulos isn’t trying to appease fans the way J.P. was.  He isn’t trying to make the Jays look better than they are by throwing big money deals at people who don’t deserve them (B.J. Ryan anybody?).  He understands that a winner is built on the field, not at the bank, and he’s already demonstrated as much by dealing away Wells and Marcum.

So why would anybody truly and honestly believe that AA is going to sign Bautista to an ungodly contract? 

Going into this off-season, both parties knew they had severe risks to manage.  If Bautista only signed a one-year deal then fell back to his 15 HR, .235 average ways, his shot at multi-year security would be squashed.  Similarly, if AA caved and inked the slugger to a big money deal, then saw the same regression, his reputation and status with the fans would be squashed.

But come on here.  Both men are sensible.  Both men understand that a middle ground is what MUST happen.  It just makes too much sense. 

The million dollar question, therefore, is this:

What is that middle ground? 

I heard predictions on Twitter yesterday that Adrian Beltre’s deal is a good proxy for Bautista (6 year / $96-million).  Really?  There are so many things wrong with that comparable.  The term is too long and the dollar value is too high.  I think even Bautista himself would say that.  Plus, if he was only asking for $10-million in arbitration, why would he suddenly get a contract worth $16-million?  Not going to happen.

In my opinion, the Bautista case is very similar to the Rickie Weeks saga playing out in Milwaukee.  According to Ken Rosenthal the Brewers and Weeks are making progress on a multi-year deal.  I don’t know any dollar figures, but it would make sense to me that Weeks and Bautista both be rewarded with similar deals. 

Rickie Weeks is the perfect contract comp for Bau.

I know that Weeks came into the league surrounded by hype and therefore may have a bigger name value.  I know that many might prefer to break the bank on Weeks.  But is he actually worth more than Joey?

Let’s see:

Age: Weeks is younger, but not by much.  I was suprised to learn that he will turn 29 this season.  Bautista will turn 31.  Those two years will make a difference, but it’s not as if Rickie Weeks is an up-and-coming superstar.  He’s been around.

Experience: Bautista has played 736 games over seven seasons, an average of 105 per year.  His playing time was mainly diminished by lack of opportunity – somebody was always ahead of him on the depth chart.  Weeks has played in 642 games over seven seasons, an average of 91 per year.  His playing time was diminished due to….

Injuries: Weeks has been chronically hampered by injuries to his thumb and wrist.  Bautista has been able to stay relatively healthy throughout his entire career.

Defense: Rickie has been widely acclaimed as the worst defensive 2B in baseball, so bad that Bill James was quoted as saying he should be moved to a different position.  Weeks lead the league in a stat called “Defensive Misplays”, created by the Fielding Bible.  Bautista isn’t a superhuman defender by any means, but he has proven that he can adequately play two positions, showing versatility.

Breakout Year: After years of underperforming, both men finally broke out last year.  We all know about Bautista’s 54 HR.  But Weeks finally put it all together himself, hitting .269 with a .830 OPS, 29 HR, and 83 RBI.

Judging by the above categories, I would put them on equal grounds.  Rickie Weeks gets an uptick because he is younger, but his injury history might negate that advantage.  As shown by the 2010 season, when both finally get a chance to play everyday, both can be very dangerous.  But the major difference is that Bautista has always been blocked by other players.  He won’t be in 2011.  Weeks has always been blocked by his own health, which can be a problem at anytime.

Bottom line is this:  I think both men should be rewarded with similar contracts.

However, I will almost guarantee that Weeks gets the bigger contract.

I will also guarantee that Bautista produces the better numbers.

Which will work out perfectly for Jays fans.

The “Spring Training Makes Everybody a Kid Again” Fan of the Game

I’ve had this picture on my phone for a while, waiting for the perfect time to post it.

It was sent in by loyal 500 Level Fan reader, and brand new Vancouver-ite @TheCraiger, a shot of him as a baby, being brought up the right way – as a Jays fan.

(As an aside – his love for the Jays didn’t last, as he somehow fell in love with A-Rod and the Yankees. Poor Sauny. Poor, poor Sauny.)

Well, that perfect time is now.

Put aside all the speculation about the rotation. Forget about the ongoing closer merry-go-round. Stop thinking about who will play third, who will play first, who will DH.

Most of all, drop all the negativity and sense of doom surrounding Jose Bautista’s looming arbitration case and how it will affect the slugger.

It’s time for Spring Training.

Spring Training is the best time of year. It is the unofficial end of Winter. It is a time for hope, a time when even fans of the lowly Pirates, Royals, and Mariners can muster up a thought of winning. Everybody is a contender in February.

But the best thing about Spring Training is that makes everybody feel like a kid again.

This was always the time of year when I’d bring out my glove and a tennis ball, brave the last gasp of the winter chill, and head to the driveway. With each throw against the house I was a different Blue Jay. I was Tony Fernandez fielding short hops, or I was John Olerud snagging line drives.

This has always been the time of year when my child-like love of the game is at its fullest. Baseball is a game again. There are no thoughts of arbitration, of contracts, of wins and losses, of trades, free agents, waiver claims, statistics, injuries,

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call-ups, or standings.

No, it’s all about the game. It’s all about the crack of the bat, the smell of the grass and of the leather mitt. It’s all about the feeling of catching and throwing a ball and of swinging a bat.

It’s all about being a kid again.

A kid with an old-school Blue Jay cap and shirt.

Why I Like Rajai Davis

When Rajai Davis was acquired on November 17th for Danny Farquhar and

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Trystan Magnuson, many were not happy about it.

“Farquhar and Magnuson were solid prospects”, they said.

“We already have a Rajai Davis on the roster”, they said. “His name is Fred Lewis.”

“Our outfield is set with Wells, Snider, and Bautista”, they said.

“His career .330 OBP is terrible for a lead-off hitter”, they said.

“I like this trade”, I said.

Now with Wells and Lewis gone and Rajai firmly implanted as the starting CF, the door is open for him to have a breakout year.

Aside from the fact that he single-handedly won me a fantasy baseball title in 2009, here

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are several reasons why I’m excited about Rajai Davis in 2011:

1. He can steal bases.

Davis swiped 50 last year in Oakland and 41 the year before that. With John Farrell promising to be more aggressive, he could exceed that this season. The last player to steal 50 bases in a single season in a Blue Jays uniform was Shannon Stewart in 1998. In fact, if Davis simply replicates his past two season with the A’s, he will sit tied for 9th in career stolen bases in Toronto franchise history.

2. His OBP isn’t criminally bad.

Sure you’d like to see a lead-off hitter get on base at a higher than .320 clip (Davis’ OBP in 2010). But that would have ranked him ahead of John Buck, Aaron Hill, Alex Gonzalez, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, Travis Snider, Jose Molina, John McDonald, and Dewayne Wise on last year’s club. Plus Rajai’s OBP in 2009 was .360 – much better. Besides, Devon White seemed to have success leading off in the 90’s, and his OBP was .327 during his Toronto tenure.

3. He will be the third Blue Jay with the initials R.D.

The first two did good things for this franchise: Rob Ducey (Canadian), and Robinzon Diaz (traded for Jose Bautista).

4. Defense.

Though baseball-reference doesn’t back me up on this one (-2 Total Zone rating), he will look like Willie Mays in comparison to how Vernon played CF last year (-10 Total Zone). Plus, his speed in the outfield is never a bad thing.

5. He looks like a nice guy.

Look at him. What a man!

6. He can cut hair.

Image from Yahoo Sports.

Quick Poll – Who Would You Rather Have?

With a smile like that, who wouldn't want Delgado back?

 

The top baseball stories of the past few days have nothing to do with the current version of the Toronto Blue Jays. 

They do, however, have everything to do with former members of the organization.

First came word that at 38 years of age, former Blue Jay All-Star Carlos Delgado wants a shot at a major league comeback.  Delgado last played in 2009 for the New York Mets, and is coming off a third hip surgery.

Then yesterday came bigger news that Rangers 3B Michael Young, the face of the Texas ball club, wants out.  He has requested a trade because he has been “misled and manipulated” by the Rangers, and “can’t take it anymore.”  Young, of course, was a fifth round draft choice of the Blue Jays in 1997 and was later dealt in an awful trade for Esteban Loaiza.

Now, both men are available. 

The next question is: who would you rather have on the Jays?

Let’s meet the candidates:

Carlos Delgado

Pros

– Former Blue Jay hero and fan favourite

– 27 HR away from 500 giving fans a milestone to root for

– Would be cheap

– Very nice smile

Cons

– 38 years old

– Hasn’t appeared in a major league game since May 10, 2009

– After three hip surgeries, no guarantees he can even walk let alone swing a bat

– Likely a DH only, meaning EE has to play the field

Michael Young

Pros

– Career .300 hitter

Cons

– 34 years old

– Still has 3 years / $48-million left on his contract

– Can only be acquired via trade

– Using both standard (errors) and advanced (zone fielding runs) metrics, he’s a worse defensive 3B than Encarnacion

– Career .322 AVG / .859 OPS in Texas, but only .279 AVG / .733 OPS on the road, including a weak .717 OPS at Rogers Centre

– Blue Jays are NOT among the eight teams he will consider playing for 

Verdict

Neither

Unless……the Jays can sign Delgado to one of those cheap “I want to finish my career in the place where I started” contracts, AND only start him occasionally, AND use him predominantly as a pinch-hitter, AND put a clause in his contract that says he must come out of the dugout and wave to the fans at some point during every game, AND force him to retire before the end of the season so the Jays can have an on-field tribute to him.

I’d be OK with that.

In fact, I’d quite like that.

Rookies, Rookies, and More Rookies

Opening Day is now less than two months away, and the Blue Jays are still surrounded by questions. 

One of the biggest concerns is third base.  Will Jose Bautista shift there, despite his personal preference to play RF?  Will Aaron Hill or Yunel Escobar (or both) shift from their current spots?  Will Edwin Encarnacion reprise his role of E5?  Or maybe, just maybe, will the team break camp with an unproven, raw rookie manning third?

That rookie, of course, would be Canada’s own Brett Lawrie, acquired from Milwaukee for Shaun Marcum. 

The Blue Jays have high expectations for Lawrie – you simply don’t trade your Opening Day starter and erstwhile ace for nothing.  But whether or not those lofty expectations begin to be filled this season is still unknown.  The odds are heavily stacked against Lawrie becoming the Opening Day 3B, but with a huge spring he still has a chance.

Which brings me to my main point: if Toronto does start the 2011 season with Lawrie at third, then the Jays will likely have three rookies making huge contributions this season.  J.P. Arencibia is on target to receive the majority of the starts behind the plate, and all signs point to Kyle Drabek starting 2011 in the rotation.

That gives the Jays three highly touted rookies.  Even if Lawrie doesn’t make the team, both JPA and Drabek might have a solid opportunity to receive Rookie of the Year votes – something extremely rare for this franchise.

Yes we all know that Eric “I Ate My Trophy” Hinske and Alfredo Griffin have won the ROY award in the past (Griffin in 1979, Hinske in 2002).  But other than that, the Jays have not had a lot of success with rookies. 

Using baseball-reference as my data source, I looked at the Rookie of the Year voting results for each year from 1977-2010, the range spanning Toronto’s MLB existence.  In that 34 year period, the Toronto Blue Jays have had 19 different players receive Rookie of the Year votes, but only five have finished in the top-3 (the aforementioned Griffin and Hinske, plus Mark Eichhorn in 1986, Juan Guzman in 1991, and Jose Cruz in 1997 after spending half the season in Seattle).  Below is the complete list:

Of course that list must be taken with a grain of salt.  The Jays were a winning franchise from the mid-80’s to the mid-90’s, meaning they went without a high draft pick for many years.  It also meant the focus was on acquiring major league ready veterans and high-priced free agents to help them win, instead of breaking in raw rookies.  Many times, when the Jays did have high-profile rookies, they eased them in slowly, eschewing Rookie of the Year chances for slow and steady progress (like Travis Snider).

But still – only five players in franchise history have finished in the top-3?  Many Blue Jay stars never even received a single ROY vote, including Tony Fernandez, Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key, Roy Halladay, Vernon Wells, Carlos Delgado, and Aaron Hill. 

That total seemed strange to me.  It seemed very low.  To determine if it was low, I set out to put that total in context by comparing Toronto’s ROY performance with the rest of the AL East.  Here is what I found:

In the past 34 years Toronto has actually had more players receive ROY votes than Boston, New York, and Baltimore.  (Tampa Bay has only been around since 1998.  Their 10 rookies projects to about 26 over the same time span).

But while the quantity of player is there, the quality hasn’t been.  The Jays are dead last when looking at top-3 finishers, and are only ahead of the Yankees when looking at the top-5. 

Most disturbing is the column highlighted in yellow.  In the past five seasons, the Toronto Blue Jays have not had a single player receive a ROY vote.  Not one.  Boston and Tampa Bay have each had five, Baltimore two, and the Yankees one.  The same Yankees who have been spending hundreds of millions of dollars on free agents have still been able to produce a rookie good enough to receive recognition.  (The fact that it was Joba Chamberlain who received that vote in ’08 can be laughed at now, but still – a vote is a vote.)

So while Toronto has failed to produce a real rookie threat in the last five years, the rest of the AL East has been churning them out at a rapid pace.  And if you don’t count Joba, the names are exceptional:

Boston – Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, Jacoby Ellsbury

Baltimore – Nick Markakis, Brian Matusz

Tampa Bay – Delmon Young (since traded to MIN), Evan Longoria, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, John Jaso

But if there is ever going to be a year to break that mould it’s 2011.  With Drabek, Arencibia, and maybe Lawrie in the mix the Jays have a phenomenal chance to get back in the ROY race.

The better news?  With Anthopoulos at the helm, 2012 looks pretty good too. 

And 2013.

And 2014.

And…..

Spicing Up A Slow, Boring Tuesday

So it’s Tuesday.  It’s supposed to snow heavily later on.  The day is dragging.  And to top it off, there isn’t much happening in the world of baseball right now (unless you are currently watching Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon pull on Tampa Bay Rays jerseys).

Alex Anthopoulos hasn’t made any crazy trades for a few days.  We still don’t know who will play third, or close, or be the fifth starter.  Speculation abounds.

But instead of writing yet another “Projected Lineup” p0st that I’m sure people are tired of reading about, I’m going to switch it up a bit.

I’m going to talk All-Star games.

On Sunday both the NHL and NFL held their annual All-Star games.  Both are essentially unwatchable – extremely loose and watered down versions of the games that fans love.  Hitting is reduced to a bare minimum, and intensity is virtually non-existent.  I don’t know why these games still exist.

But if there is one thing that the NHL does do well it’s the concept of “All-Star Weekend”, especially the Saturday evening skills competition.  It’s something different, allowing fans to interact with players, and enabling players to show off parts of their game that might not be possible during the season.  Seriously, how often does a player like Zdeno Chara get a chance to skate 35 feet to a still puck and blast a slapshot?

Now, the MLB All-Star game is (in my opinion) the best of the four major sports, and not just because home field advantage in the World Series rides on the outcome.  By its nature, baseball is a sport that can always be intense and competitive – even in an exhibition format.  There is no violence, no hitting, no fighting.  Sure the competitive nature and meaning of the game has been reduced over the years due to free agency and interleague play, but these guys still want to win (though they won’t go as far as Pete Rose went in 1970 when he bowled over Ray Fosse).

Even though it is the best game, I think it can learn a lesson from the NHL and NBA weekends.  That lesson is this: MLB should institute a skills competition.

I know it has the Home Run Derby, but come on – that event has lost its lustre and is too long and monotonous for its own good.  All you need to know about how long-winded and inconsequential the HR Derby is, is that Josh Hamilton put on the single greatest performance in its history…..and lost.  Plus the derby is only for home run hitters.  Hockey has something for the passers, the accuracy shooters, the skaters, they heavy shooters, the goalies, etc…

So here is what I would do to the MLB All-Star festivities to spice it up for the fans and to make it more fun for the players:  One night, five events, everybody participates.

Event 1 – HR Derby

I’m not backpedalling here.  Yes the current HR Derby is boring, but only in its current form.  Instead of having it last three rounds – where let’s face it, the players are equally as tired as the fans by the end – it’s a “one shot and you’re done” deal.  Three players per league, 10 outs, most homers wins.  Simple as that.

Event 2 – Target Hitting

This could be one for the Ichiro’s of the league.  Five targets on the field (one against the outfield fence, one over the fence in HR territory, a circle in RF, a circle in deep LF, and an upright target in the infield).  10 pitches.  Targets are worth a different amount of points depending on difficulty, with bonus points awarded for hitting all five.  Three players per league, most points wins.

Event 3 – Accuracy Throwing

Three players per league – one OF (preferably RF), one IF (preferably 3B) and one P.  Eacb plays their position and tries to hit targets that simulate throwing a runner out third from the outfield, throwing a runner out at first from third, and hitting the strike zone.  Points are awarded based on hitting the more difficult targets.  Hardest thrower would be great (think Aroldis Chapman trying to break 106 mph) but would obviously be an injury risk.

Event 4 – Fastest Runner

Two events: one timing players from home to first (think speedsters like Crawford vs. Ichiro), and one timing players from first to third (smooth baserunners who take the turn well).

Event 5 – Relay

Similar to the NHL relay that combined one-timers, passing, accuracy shooting, and puck control.  This could be split into four parts, with AL and NL competing head on.

1. Bunting – AL sends a player to bat with the goal of reaching base via bunt.  The NL’s goal is to throw the player out at first.  Winner gets one point.

2. Base Stealing – AL elects a different player to stand on first and attempt to steal second off an NL selected P/C/2B combo.  Again, one point on the line.

3. Sac Fly – AL elects a third player to stand on second and attempt to tag up on a fly ball to an NL selected RF/3B combo. 

4. Wild Pitch Control – Finally, a fourth AL player stand on third and attempts to score on a wild pitch.  This would test an NL catcher’s ability to retrieve the ball and throw a strike to the pitcher covering home.

Would an event like this ever be introduced?  Absolutely not, not with insurance premiums and contract clauses in the way.

But would fans love it?  Yes.

Would players love it?  I would think so.

Would it add a lot of flair and excitement to the All-Star festivities?  100% yes.

And after watching the NHL All-Star weekend, more flair and excitement are always a good thing.